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Part 1: Paul Heise responds to John Deathridge "Ring" translation

Posted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 11:27 am
by alberich00
Dear Members and Visitors to the www.wagnerheim.com discussion forum:

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Dr. John Deathridge's new English translation of Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, published last year by Penguin, and I must say that in many respects Dr. Deathridge's translation granted me a very fresh look at numerous passages from Wagner's Ring. I emailed him the following document as an attachment and requested that if he find time and opportunity he take a look at it and perhaps respond to me. This 16 page document is not a critique of Dr. Deathridge's superb new translation. Rather, it includes a few observations based on my own lifetime of study of RW's art and his Ring in particular, a couple of recommendations for small corrections or changes, and some questions of interpretation. If Dr. Deathridge responds to me and grants me permission to share his response, I'll post that here as well. The following quotations from RW's Ring, unless otherwise specified, are quoted from Dr. Deathridge's translation.

PAUL BRIAN HEISE'S RESPONSE TO DR. JOHN DEATHRIDGE'S TRANSLATION OF WAGNER'S RING


[P. xxxiv-xxxv]

"At Bruennhilde's Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich ('for ever I was,/ for ever I am') in Siegfried Act 3 ..., where the existing stage direction describes her face as showing an 'image of grace', Wagner recited the immediately preceding passage to his singers with an 'upsetting power of expression', calling it a 'terrible moment'. Here Bruennhilde is not so much in love with Siegfried as teetering on an existential precipice on her mountainous journey from immortal goddess to human being. The gorgeous lyrical outpouring that follows is a famous set piece for singers. But in light of Wagner's demonstration of the utter despair leading into it, the singing in context must surely feel highly vulnerable, as if walking on thin ice. Wagner obviously felt that he had to make this clear to his performers. Even now the dramatic point does not always come across."

The "immediately preceding passage" which you reference above (as you state elsewhere in your book) is Bruennhilde's despairing remark to Siegfried: "Bright as the sun shines the day of my disgrace! - Oh Siegfried! Siegfried! See my fear!" The explanation I offer (based in part on evidence provided by Wagner's employment of musical motifs which draw attention to links between disparate passages from the libretto) of the "existential precipice" on which Bruennhilde is "teetering" is the following:

Bruennhilde's most intense expression of the fear she (the formerly celibate immortal) feels when confronted with the mortal Siegfried's insistence on consummating sexual union with her, is in the following passage (in which I've embedded the key musical motifs in play) which almost immediately precedes the two passages you cite. The immediately preceding passage is Siegfried's plea for Bruennhilde to come out of the dark and revel with him in the radiant sun, which recalls Tristan's and Isolde's fateful decision to await the day in Act Two. I've broken the prior passage up to show its motival component more distinctly. The numbered musical motifs are from my list of 193 Ring motifs, which is based on Dr. Allen Dunning's list of 177 (based in turn on Deryck Cooke's recorded lecture on the musical motifs of the Ring) [My revised motif list of 193 numbered motifs isn't identical to the one employed in my "Ring" study which has been posted here at www.wagnerheim.com since 2011]:


'Bruennhilde staring straight ahead of her

(H81 - Wotan's Rebellion) Sunless and sad, my sight is dulled.

(H50 - Alberich's Ring Curse) My eyes grow dimmer, my light goes out:

(H81) I feel deranged.

(H50) Out of fog and horror comes a maze of fear, curling and raving:

(H78 - Fricka's rebuke of Wotan's support for the mortal Waelsungs' rebellion against the gods' rule/H83 - Wotan's finding with loathing only himself in all he undertakes, and his anger at Bruennhilde for her rebellion against his demand she support Fricka against the Waelsungs) terror marches and rises aloft! -

Wildly she covers her eyes with her hands.'

The sequence of three motifs (H81, H50, and H78) which expresses, in this passage, Bruennhilde's premonition of horror at the potential consequences of consummating her sexual union with Siegfried, was first heard in an identical sequence at the beginning of V.2.2 when Wotan exploded in despair after Fricka had forced him to acknowledge that his beloved son Siegmund was not in fact the free hero of redemption for whom Wotan had longed, but merely Wotan's product, without true freedom of will or autonomy. H81 - the so-called Wotan's Rebellion Motif, is introduced there in V.2.2 just prior to his confession to Bruennhilde, and it's effectively a symbol for his confession (Cooke described it as an inversion of Wotan's Spear Motif). H50 is Alberich's Ring Curse Motif, introduced in R.4. H78 is the motif introduced in V.2.1 as Fricka described how the Waelsungs' lawlessness was a threat to the gods' rule. Fricka's rebuke of Wotan's assumption that Siegmund acts freely and Wotan's rebuttal in V.2.1 reference Feuerbach's critique of the theological notion that God alone is autonomous but not mortal man. Feuerbach stated that God can't very well punish man (as Fricka does) for what he does wrong and at the same time declare him incapable of independent thought and action.

The last motif heard during Bruennhilde's explosion of despair, H83, was first heard in embryo in V.2.2 as Wotan was confessing to Bruennhilde that he found with loathing only himself in all that he undertook (to redeem the gods through his Waelsung heroes). H83 later is one of two motifs which express Wotan's rage at Bruennhilde for breaking his divine law in order to support both the Waelsungs and Wotan's original hope he placed in Siegmund for redemption which he now (as he confesses to Bruennhilde) regards as futile. Wagner explained that in Wotan's rage against Bruennhilde he was really raging against himself. And of course, just prior to his confession, Bruennhilde calls herself Wotan's Will, and Wotan responds that in speaking to her (confessing his secret which shall remain forever unspoken in words) he's only speaking to himself.

The significance of Wagner's employment of this specific sequence of associative motifs to express Bruennhilde's premonition of doom at the prospect of joining Siegfried in sexual union (something in V.3.3 she'd told Wotan she longed for) is, I believe, that as the confidante of his confession, as the safe repository for Wotan's forbidden hoard of knowledge that his quest for redemption of the gods from Alberich's Ring Curse through his Waelsung heroes is doomed, she intuits that neither she nor Siegfried are any more free of the influence of Wotan's loathsome egoism and fear than Siegmund was, and that they, like Wotan and Siegmund before them, are doomed by Alberich's Ring Curse, and will actually take part in bringing it to fruition. This is in essence what she acknowledges in her judgment against Wotan (who sits in Valhalla awaiting his end in despair) in T.3.3, that through Siegfried's most heroic deed Wotan condemned Siegfried to destruction by the same Ring Curse which doomed Wotan. By virtue of granting Siegfried loving union with her she's granting him access to Wotan's fearful secret, and Bruennhilde subliminally fears that Siegfried might betray the secret she keeps to the light of day. This is a primary - though covert - subject of discussion in their second love duet in T.P.B. This hoard of dangerous knowledge Wotan obtained from her mother Erda (Mother Nature), who gave birth to Bruennhilde from Wotan's seed, i.e., from his fearful yet hopeful quest to learn from Erda full knowledge of the gods' inevitable doom and (if he can't escape it) whether he can end his fear of it. Wotan poses these two questions near the end of R.4 as Erda is disappearing and afterward, and repeats them rhetorically in S.3.1 during his third and final confrontation with Erda.

This sequence of three motifs heard in S.3.3 suggests that Wotan's unspoken secret, his hoard of forbidden knowledge, which he dare not say aloud, is at risk of being betrayed, i.e., at risk of being made conscious. On this interpretation Bruennhilde is Wotan's unconscious mind, in whom and in which he's repressed unbearable self-knowledge by confessing his intolerable thoughts (his divine "Noth") to her. Wotan differs in this respect from Lohengrin, who unlike Wotan would not acquiesce to Elsa's plea that he share his forbidden self-knowledge with her. Wagner said in 'A Communication to my Friends' that Elsa was Lohengrin's unconscious mind, in whom Lohengrin could find redemption. Wagner also said that Elsa (i.e., her offer for Lohengrin to share with her the secret of his identity and origin in order that she could protect him from suffering the "Noth" which exposing this secret would cause him) taught him how to unearth his Siegfried. Elsa is Wagner's model for Bruennhilde. My interpretation places great weight on the fact that while Siegfried tells Fafner "I don't know much yet, not even who I am ... ," Bruennhilde hours later responds by telling Siegfried "What you do not know, I know in your stead," accompanied by the Fate Motif H87. Bruennhilde knows for Siegfried what he doesn't consciously know, his true identity and fate.

We can surmise this from the fact that during his V.2.2 confession Wotan asked himself what use his "will" could be to him since he can't create a free hero. Bruennhilde's (his will's) use to him is that through his confession to her, the womb of his wishes, she figuratively gives birth to his free hero Siegfried (Sieglinde being his literal birth-mother). Not only does Siegfried confuse Bruennhilde with his mother, but Bruennhilde knows what Sieglinde doesn't know, that Sieglinde is pregnant with Siegfried, and Bruennhilde names Siegfried without consulting Sieglinde. Thanks to Bruennhilde Siegfried is Wotan reborn, minus consciousness of his true identity, minus his self-loathing and fear of the end and of fate, which Bruennhilde knows for Siegfried so he needn't suffer from Wotan's paralyzing self-consciousness. Bruennhilde in T.2.5 states that her magic protects Siegfried at the front, a metaphor for protecting him from Wotan's paralyzing foresight of the gods' fated end and the fear it engenders. As Wagner told King Ludwig II, Wotan is reborn in Siegfried as the true artist is reborn in his work of art, his handiwork forgotten. We can also surmise this from numerous other hints, such as the fact that Wotan tells Erda in S.3.1 that her fearful knowledge (of all that was, is, and will be, including the fated twilight of the gods) wanes before his will. His will is Bruennhilde, and Erda's (her mother's) knowledge waned before Bruennhilde when Wotan confessed it to her, repressing it into his unconscious mind. Another example is Wagner's comment recorded by Cosima that Siegfried lives entirely in the present, the finest gift of the will (i.e., of Bruennhilde). This is what's at stake in S.3.3 when Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that what Wotan thought (i.e., as spoken in his confession), she felt, and what she felt was just her love for Siegfried (accompanied by the so-called World-Inheritance Motif H143), but Siegfried responds that he can't grasp what she says but only feel her presence. Thanks to Bruennhilde Siegfried is a knower through feeling.

The last occurrence in the Ring of this specific sequence of three motifs is in T.1.3.B, when Waltraute's plea that Bruennhilde restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters to free gods and world from the burden of its curse falls on deaf ears, Bruennhilde having incorrectly concluded that the love she shares with Siegfried isn't implicated in Wotan's great sin, which Alberich designed his Ring Curse to punish, but is instead autonomous from the gods and freed from their concerns. Alberich described Wotan's great sin as his sin against all that was, is, and will be. This is Wotan's sin against Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which is religious man's sin of world-renunciation, or pessimism, his sin against objective truth, which Wotan commits if he coopts the power of Alberich's Ring in order to sustain the gods' rule (i.e., to sustain the self-deceit involved in religious man's dependence on consoling illusions to redeem himself from the world's bitter truths). Siegfried and Bruennhilde (metaphors for the secular Wagnerian artist-hero and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration) have unwittingly inherited Wotan's sin from him, the representative of dying religious faith. The tragic consequence which follows from Bruennhilde's obliviousness to her true situation is not only that Siegfried is about to betray her, his true love, but that he's about to give his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, and Wotan's unspoken secret which she has kept, away to Gunther and the Gibichungs, Wagner's metaphor for the audience for his unique art. Siegfried expressed his subliminal foreshadowing of this fate in T.P.B in his remark to Bruennhilde that with respect to the "hoard of runes" which she told Siegfried the gods (i.e., Wotan) had taught her, she has left him untaught (i.e., unconscious of it), and that she gave him more than he knows how to cherish (i.e., keep, or guard). Bruennhilde confirms the accuracy of Siegfried's premonition when in T.2.5 she complains that she gave all her wisdom (Wotan's confession of his unspoken secret, which should have remained forever unspoken) to Siegfried, who in giving her away to Gunther also gave her wisdom away. Note the similarity of Siegfried's tragic trajectory in this respect to Tristan, who like Siegfried gave his own true love away to King Marke (as RW himself noted in 'Epilogue to The Nibelung's Ring').


In his confession Wotan made Bruennhilde the repository of his unspoken secret, which was too unbearable for him to speak aloud in words (i.e., to consciously contemplate). Though he couldn't speak it aloud in words it could safely be communicated through its sublimation into music, i.e., Wagner's musical motifs, so long as the true programme hidden behind that music isn't brought to consciousness as thought. This is precisely what Siegfried does in T.3.2 by satisfying Hagen's insistent request that Siegfried tell his audience the Gibichungs how he learned the meaning of birdsong (the Woodbird's song being a metaphor for Wagner's musical motifs of remembrance and foreboding). Wotan's secret was Erda's (Mother Nature's) prophecy of the inevitable doom of the gods (i.e., the inevitable decline of religious faith). This doom of the gods which Erda foresaw also embraces Wotan's proxies Bruennhilde and the Waelsungs, who inherit his sin and must pay for it. It therefore embraces Wagner's own Ring, since Wagner hoped that his redemptive secular art could preserve the essence of dying religious faith (man's age-old longing for transcendent value) as feeling in artistic "Wonder." Siegfried's sung narrative of how he learned the meaning of birdsong is Wagner's metaphor for the creation and performance of his own Ring, a Hamlet-like play within the play, in which Siegfried, by interpreting the Woodbird's song, unwittingly allows his audience the Gibichungs to become fellow-knowers with the music-dramatist of the profoundest secret of his artistic aim, something which Wagner elsewhere said remained a mystery even to the authentic artist. That is, Siegfried didn't know who he is but has betrayed the secret of his identity (his unconscious artistic inspiration) to his audience by making music visible.

In his autobiography Mein Leben Wagner stated that though Feuerbach's critique of religion had taught him that faith's promise of immortality is illusory, the only true immortality is found (figuratively) in great, heroic deeds, and inspired works of art. Wotan (the embodiment of man's aspiration to transcendent value, which - inspired by our fear of our end - gave birth to man's belief in gods), knowing that divinity (religious faith) is predestined to destruction, hopes that his aspiration to transcendent meaning will live on, first, in the social revolutionary Siegmund, the man of altruistic deeds, and later in his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde, Wagner's metaphor for the modern, secular artist-hero and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, whose loving union will produce redemptive deeds of art as secular man's substitute for dying religious faith. As Wagner himself said, "... when God [Wotan] had to leave us, he left us, in remembrance of him, music [Bruennhilde]."

So the sequence of motifs H81, H50, and H78, heard in these three distinct dramatic contexts, seems to warn of danger that something Wotan couldn't bear to consciously contemplate is at risk of becoming conscious, of emerging from the silent depths to the light of day, as Alberich said of his Nibelung Hoard. Wotan is Wagner's Feuerbachian metaphor for collective, historical man during the religious or mytho-poetic phase of human history prior to the complete victory of the scientific, secular spirit, which in my allegorical reading is represented by Alberich's son and proxy Hagen. Over 47 years I've discovered a vast, conceptually coherent body of musico-dramatic evidence in the Ring, in the secondary documentary evidence in Wagner's other operas and music dramas, and in Feuerbach's writings and Wagner's writings and recorded remarks, which supports this thesis, but here I'll only address one more example which dramatically supports this argument and helps to make sense of Wagner's remark that Bruennhilde is experiencing a "terrible moment."

Siegfried (near the beginning of S.3.3), like Bruennhilde, feels fear at the potential consequences of consummating a loving union with her. His fear of waking her is primarily expressed by H147A, which according to Cooke is a variant of H80, the so-called Motif of Wotan's Frustration. H80 is introduced in V.2.1 and heard repeatedly as Fricka's argument that Wotan is wrong in asserting that Siegmund is a free hero begins to undermine Wotan's confidence that through Siegmund the gods can be redeemed from Alberich's Ring Curse. By virtue of winning Wotan's safe repository of his dangerous, unspoken secret, Bruennhilde, Siegfried falls heir to Wotan's forbidden knowledge, his hoard of runes, but knows it only subliminally. Siegfried's fear of waking Bruennhilde is his premonition that he's falling heir to knowledge so terrible that Wotan couldn't bear to speak it aloud, i.e., couldn't bear to contemplate it consciously, so he repressed it into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde.

The far-reaching implication of these five musical motifs' (H81, H50, H78, H83, H147A) subliminal analysis of these passages in S.3.3, in which Siegfried and Bruennhilde seem to experience a premonition that their love (a metaphor for the redemptive power of Wagner's revolutionary music-dramas, particularly his Ring) is predestined to be betrayed by themselves, is that Wotan had confessed to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde (Siegfried's muse of inspiration) that his bid for redemption of man's religious impulse from the rise of science-based secularism through both human love (the social revolutionary Siegmund's love for Sieglinde) and inspired secular art (Siegfried's loving union with Bruennhilde) is doomed to failure. Wotan's anger at Bruennhilde stems largely from the fact that after he'd recognized the futility of his bid for redemption conceptually, she pursued his original dream of redemption feelingly (art doesn't stake a claim to the power of truth, i.e., the power of the Ring, unlike religion) by ignoring the contradictions forced upon Wotan by thought. Thus in S.3.3 she tells Siegfried that what Wotan thought [his confession to her], she felt, and what she felt was just her love for Siegfried. This is accompanied by the so-called World-Inheritance Motif H143 which Wotan introduced in S.3.1 during his final confrontation with Erda, in which he told Erda that he no longer feared the twilight of the gods (the death of religious faith) because his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde would redeem the world from Alberich's Ring Curse (the curse of consciousness). Metaphorically, Wotan was telling Erda that man's bid for transcendence, originally represented by the gods' heavenly home Valhalla and its soul, Freia (Goddess of divine love and immortality, the object of religious faith), lives on freed from religious faith's fear of the truth and of doubt, in the redemptive art which Siegfried's muse Bruennhilde will inspire him to create. All of this and more, in my view, lies behind Wagner's description of Bruennhilde's appeal to Siegfried to acknowledge her fear as a "terrible moment."


[P. 98-99]

There seems to be some confusion in at least two of the following three passages from your translation between the Nibelung Hoard and the Nibelung army of night, or Nibelung Horde. In several instances it seems hoard rather than horde is meant.


" 'Habt acht vor dem naechtlichen Heer, entsteigt des Niblungen Hort aus stummer Tiefe zu Tag!" "On guard against the night army, the steps of the Nibelungs' horde out of the voiceless depths into day!"

"Gelingt deiner Herrlichen List, was mit dem Horte du heischest: den Maechstigsten muss ich dich ruehmen ... ." "If, with the horde, your wonderful wit gets you everything you demand: I honour you as the mightiest of men ... ."

"... dass des Hortes Haeufer, der Niblungen Heer, neidlos dir geneigt?" "... shouldn't the Nibelung army, who get and amass the horde, regard you without envy?"

Interestingly, Stewart Spencer offers the following translation of the first passage above:

"Beware of my army of night, when the Nibelung's hoard arises from silent depths to the light of day."


[P. 303]

Wouldn't "womb" also be a proper translation of Schoss in the following passage?:

"Sie selbst war meines Wunsches schaffender Schoss ... ." "She was herself the vessel through which my wishes passed ... ."

In the following passage from P. 379 of course this isn't ambiguous given the context:

"... lang' schon schied ich, aus der Mutter Schoss ... ." "I've long bid farewell to my mother's womb ... ."


[P. 381]

Here's another possible example of ambiguity re the distinction between hoard and horde?


Siegfried: "... Fafnern soll er ihm faellen, dass den Ring er erraenge, des Hortes Herrscher zu sein." "... his charge is to kill Fafner for him, that he may get the ring and be ruler of the horde."


[P. 491]

Thank you for not repeating Spencer's mistake in having Erda call Wotan a god in the following passage:

"Was kamst du, stoerrischer Wilder, zu stoeren der Wala Schlaf?" "Why did you come, restive savage, to disturb the seeress's sleep?

The context of this passage seems to be that Erda is denying Wotan's/Wanderer's assertion that he is a god in his preceding question:

"wie besiegt die Sorge der Gott?" "... how does a god conquer dread?"

It's not clear at what point Erda recognizes that the Wanderer is Wotan, though it seems to be in this passage, and it's also not clear why Alberich could identify Wotan under his disguise as the Wanderer at Neidhoehle but Wotan's lover Erda, who knows all, doesn't. Her remark that

"Du bist nicht, was du dich nennst!" "You are not what you say you are!"

doesn't seem to make sense if she's referring to Wotan's original answer to her question, who has awoken her, because Wotan's answer that he's her awakener is accurate, whether he's a god or Wotan or not. So presumably she's now recognized that the Wanderer is Wotan and by saying he's not what he says he is, rather than who he says he is, she must, it seems to me, be referring to Wotan's/Wanderer's question, how can the god conquer care. This of course would correspond with her original appearance in R.4 when she told Wotan that all things that are, end. The gods by definition are supposed to be immortal, though their temporary loss of Freia proved this to be merely contingent and therefore illusory. The gods, in other words, are in flagrant contradiction of Erda's, Mother Nature's, fundamental law. This is partly what Alberich meant when he accused Wotan of sinning against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., Erda's objective knowledge of the world which the Norns spin. That Wotan doesn't accept Erda's real, objective world of time/space/matter we find in his remark to her in S.3.1 that he can't accept her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be which her daughters the Norns spin, because they spin, as he complains, according to the world and can alter nothing (Wotan had conceded this real world to Alberich in S.2.1).

In any case, if my argument above is correct, Spencer ruined the meaning of this passage by inserting "god" into Erda's remark with no warrant in the original German.